Today is Canada Day, which has a weightier ring than calling it “the first of July.” Canada Day is the anniversary of the July 1, 1867 enactment of the Constitution Act, which united three colonies into one. The Constitution Act was originally called the British North America Act and the holiday itself was once known as Dominion Day, but that sounds like the kind of holiday they’d celebrate in the middle of the Hunger Games, so let’s stick with the friendlier Canada Day.
Canadian actors have long been a part of the American entertainment landscape, from Lorne Greene to Michael J. Fox to Jim Carrey to Ryan Gosling. But admit it, when you think of Canadian movies, only two films come to mind—Strange Brew, a spinoff of the SCTV “Mackenzie Brothers” skits, and the movie that always makes the lists of favorite LGBT films, Salmonberries, starring K.D. Lang, which actually takes place in Alaska and created by the great German filmmaker Percy (Bagdad Café) Adlon and his son Felix.
Part of the problem is that some of the most successful Canadian-born filmmakers are never really associated with their birthplace. James Cameron, for instance, was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario but fits into the stereotype of the California auteur so well that no one ever bothered to check his birth certificate. Norman Jewison, Paul Haggis, and Ivan Reitman were all born in Canada too and so was David Cronenberg, but they’re all perceived as having vaguely “North American” sensibilities. This is annoying to Canadians, as it should be.
If you’re a movie fan—and of course you are or why would you be here?—here are five filmmakers who identify with Canada whether they were born there or not. Celebrate their work this Canada Day.
Atom Egoyan—was actually born in Egypt but raised in Canada. He began making films while attending the University of Toronto and was first recognized on the festival circuit. His breakthrough film was Exotica, a movie that follows a diverse group of characters who are connected by the murder of one character’s daughter. Like the movie that really put Egoyan on the map—The Sweet Hereafter, the movie has a large cast, a complicated plot, and layers and dimensions that aren’t necessarily obvious on a first viewing. Egoyan, like filmmakers Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood, tends to work with a crew of the same actors, including Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Polley, who has since branched out into directing, winning the Genie Award (Canada’s version of the Oscars) for her debut film Away From Her.
Mary Harron—was born in Bracebridge, a town full of waterfalls located north of Toronto in Ontario. She is known for dark, often quirky films like I Shot Andy Warhol and The Notorious Bettie Page. In 2000, she took a lot of flak for directing American Psycho with Christian Bale, admitting to IndieWire’s Anthony Kaufman at the time that it was, “a quite disturbing and bleak movie.” Her participation in the movie has since been re-evaluated and claimed as a “feminist statement,” and Harron has moved on to direct episodes of such shows as The L Word, the Following, and Six Feet Under. She’s currently in pre-production for The Family, which focuses on a young graduate student’s relationship with three Manson Family members serving time for their horrific crimes.
Christian Duguay—was born in Outremont, Quebec. He frequently works with fellow Canadian Donald Sutherland. He works in both English and French—his film Jappeloup garnered a Best Actress Cesar nomination in France—and also alternates between television and feature films. He’s known for elevated genre films like the Wesley Snipes action film The Art of War (2000) and the sci fi thriller Screamers, which was based on a Philip K. Dick story adapted by Dan O’Bannon. He is currently in post-production with Un Sac de Billes (A Sack of Marbles), the story of a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust, based on the best-selling memoir of French author Joseph Joffo.
Léa Pool—was born in Switzerland and works in both French and English. She began her career in 1978 with the short documentary Laurent Lamerre, portier and has returned to her roots this year with Waiting for Mommy (currently in post-production) about children who are living with their mothers in prisons throughout the world. Pool’s work is frankly feminist and frequently informed by social issues, and movies like Set Me Free, a coming-of-age story set in the 60s, is both delicate and intense in its study of awakening sexuality.
Vincenzo Natali—Born in Detroit, Natali attended film school in Toronto and is an alumnus of the Canadian Film Centre. His 1997 film Cube spawned several sequels and kickstarted his career. The film is an intense, Twilight Zone-ish thriller with no stars and only one set. The most recognizable actor, ingénue Nicole de Boer, had done a lot of Canadian television shows, including Forever Knight, Street Legal, E.N.G., and Sweating Bullets, but Cube was a movie that worked at a visceral level rather than relying on star power with its story of a group of people trapped in a booby-trapped space with no idea of how they got there or why. (You can see the trailer here.) Natali has since gone on to make other films, including the documentary Getting Gilliam, as well as directing episodes of The Strain, Orphan Black, The Returned, and Hannibal.